Who is the extremist?

In America today traditionalist conservatism seems quite radical. It rejects technocracy and egalitarian hedonism—the central tenets of current political and moral discussion—together with ideals like inclusiveness and institutions like the modern managerial state that flow from them. It calls, in fact, for absolutely fundamental changes in the public order and the beliefs that motivate it.

What justifies the apparent radicalism is the extremism of the current public order. To refuse to go along with extremism is to reject it radically. A fundamental goal of modern politics is to make sex, ethnicity and religion—man’s biological, cultural and transcendental dimensions—irrelevant to human life in any publicly significant respect. Such a goal is necessary for a fully egalitarian, hedonistic and technocratic order and so indispensible to liberalism. It is also pure fanaticism that must be opposed. Since it is impossible to differ moderately with fanaticism, traditionalist conservatism cannot be moderate.

That is a problem for conservatives, who by nature are moderate. It makes them unable to take new liberal initiatives seriously until it is too late to oppose them. The conservative response to political correctness, for example, has been to say that it is silly. To say something is silly, however, is to refuse to discuss it—in the case of political correctness, to refuse to say when discrimination and the like are not ultimate evils to be eradicated at any cost but rather necessary features of a good social order. As a result, conservatives now find themselves in a position in which they can’t oppose political correctness—compulsory radical egalitarianism—at all, in which to say even that immigration should be limited or marriage distinguished from homosexual couplings are unacceptably extreme acts.
Posted by Jim Kalb at June 16, 2002 09:13 PM | Send

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